Friday, January 22, 2010

Main Street Week - More with Kevin Lowe...

This article was first published in the January 22nd edition of Main Street Week, page 7, and is reprinted here with permission from the editors. Drop by to have a look at a great community newspaper or sign up and have Main Street Week delivered right to your inbox every Friday.

More with Kevin Lowe - A New Arena in Edmonton and Concussions in Hockey

Except for his time in New York with the Rangers, Lachute's Kevin Lowe has been a member of the Edmonton Oilers throughout his storied hockey career. While this year’s squad struggles in the standings, it is still an exciting time for Lowe and the city of Edmonton. With several young prospects about to join the Oilers in the next few seasons and a new arena in the planning stages, the future looks bright for the organization.

On December 3rd, the Oilers and team owner Daryl Katz announced they would begin working with AEG Development, one of the world’s leaders in developing sports facilities. The plan is to create a new entertainment and sports district, which will include a new arena for the hockey franchise and help revitalize the downtown core in Edmonton.

“The building (Rexall Place, formerly known as the Northlands Coliseum) is OK but relative to all the new facilities in professional sports now, it’s way behind,” said Lowe on the telephone from Edmonton. “That’s from the hockey perspective, from my relationship with the Oilers, but as a citizen of the city for almost thirty-one years, the city really needs it.”

While there is no timetable as of yet for the completion of the new facilities according to Lowe, the planning is underway and the team’s President of Business Operations, Patrick LaForge, is actively working on the project.

“I am excited for the impact that it will have on the hockey club,” said Lowe. “Although our revenue streams are pretty good, our building is a little under-sized and with our demands for suites - we could have more of those, which will mean more revenue and better amenities for the fans; they are paying top dollar for what they are going to see.”

Another important topic in Edmonton and throughout the NHL is the rise in hits to the head and the effects of multiple concussions. Researchers are gaining a better understanding of the injury and there is a growing awareness in the sports world regarding the long-term health ramifications, which has led the NHL to work towards better protection for their players. Like many teams in the league, the Oilers have lost several key players at various points during the past few seasons to the injury.

“You know when we were kids growing up, if I was running playing ball hockey and hit my head on the pavement, I’d get up saying I was seeing stars,” recalled Lowe. “Well, the reality is, I probably had a concussion. That was a sign of the times; you just kept going. There just wasn’t as much information as there is today.”

“We have a better understanding overall in sports of what is happening and there is no question that the players are bigger, stronger and faster, the game is completely different. Every shift from the opening puck drop is almost a war of attrition. You hear of puck battles, of winning the puck battles; that did not exist even twenty years ago, the game had less contact.”

The General Managers in the NHL will continue meeting to discuss the issue in the coming months. Besides the well-being of their players, the teams must also deal with the monetary ramifications of players that are sidelined indefinitely.

“Being a member of management, maybe it was six years ago, we did not have many of them (concussions). If a player felt he could not play because he was a little bit woozy, you always sort of gave them two or three days,” said Lowe. “Once it led into a week or two weeks you sort of raised your eyebrow, but all that is eliminated now with the protocols that the NHL has for head injuries. It is a simple process that requires if it is a major concussion or a second head injury they are out a minimum of seven days with no activity at all and then there are the steps and a process to get them back in the games.”

While changes are coming next season in terms of the equipment worn by the players, softer shoulder and elbow pads for example, hockey is a high impact sport and contact has always been a part of the game.

“I don’t think we will ever eliminate them (the hits) because there is always going to be a player skating with his head down through the neutral zone,” said Lowe. “We don’t ever want to eliminate that, it’s been around since the days of Butch Bouchard and Toe Blake.”

That is the fine line that the NHL and their managers must walk; finding ways to protect their players while staying true to the game we all love.

As we wrap up this week’s Voice of Sport, I must say thank you to Kevin Lowe for taking the time to speak with Main Street. As the owner of a well-worn copy of Lowe’s 1988 book Champions, the opportunity to speak with him is certainly a career highlight. Look for more conversations with Kevin Lowe and updates on the Edmonton Oilers in future editions of Main Street and Main Street Week. Have a great sports day everyone.

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